Sunday, November 19, 2006

Do Differences Result in Blogger Discrimination?

Yesterday I wrote a post on The Purple Puzzle Place about discrimination among "mommy blogs".

Andrea at Beanie Baby recently did a small study looking at various elements and statistics in this slice of the blogging community, and was surprised at the results.

She found that, all other things being equal, mothers of children with highly visible special needs were likely to be linked to less, have fewer readers, and have to work harder to attain a similar ranking among blogs. She postulated that perhaps parents of special-needs children were held to an artificially higher standard when it comes to the quality of content and what it takes to get people interested enough to continue reading.

I think people do tend to be uncomfortable with differences. There's nothing wrong in itself with being uncomfortable with differences, or with picking and choosing which blogs you read according to which you find more interesting and have a natural connection to. However, I think there is a problem if, in general, we tend to respond to differences by withdrawing from them instead of being open to interacting with them.

Do you think that this is a problem in the blogging community in general? Are bloggers from marginalized or minority groups, whatever that may be in their particular blogging niche, likely to have to work harder to get the same readership and results?

For instance, a female Asian animation blogger/artist contributed to a similar discussion. She said that she has purposely avoided disclosing her gender or race on her blog, because she feels it would hamper her progress in her field and make people prone to bypass her blog. Do you see this type of thing happening in the blogging world?

If you think this is a problem, do you have any ideas about how we as bloggers could be part of a solution? If you don't think it's a problem, I'd like to hear why.


Kevin said...

Perhaps I missed it in my brief reading, but I didn't get the impression that Andrea was particularly surprised by her results. I also either tend to disagree with her analogies and interpretation, or I have a hard time understanding her (e.g. attributing to prejudice rather than subject matter), or perhaps both. I'm not inclined to vet her study, but your points questioning her categorization, sample, etc. seem relevant.

You probably have a specific sense in mind, but your statement that "there is a problem if, in general, we tend to respond to differences by withdrawing from them instead of being open to interacting with them" seems vague to me.

However, given your example of the female Asian anime blogger, I agree that it would be a shame if the perceived quality of her art is influenced pro or con by whether people know she is female or Asian. That people would do so seems strange to me, but I guess I'm just not representative of those with that particular prejudice. Is there really prejudice against Asian anime artists?

In any case, I think her solution is apropos; namely, she avoids prejudice (and allays her perception of prejudice) by not providing irrelevant information alongside her art. The internet seems to improve our ability to abstract relevant from irrelevant qualities, which seems positive in this case.

But it seems to me to be a different issue if or when people shy away from blogs of parents of children with special needs. It's probably not about their profile, but the topics. The audience may avoid topics that makes them feel bad or sad or confused or with which they cannot identify or help or understand or apply to their own lives. And every post on those topics makes it more likely to lose that portion of the audience.

So, yes; if you want to post on topics which most people are disinterested in, then you have to achieve some other higher standard or quality in order to compensate.

A blogger writes blogs that are relevant to him. A reader reads blogs that are relevant to him. Is this wrong? Are people morally obliged to read or take an interest?


steviepinhead said...

I think I agree with Kevin, to the extent that I understand the framing of the issue. Needless to say, there may be some form of "discrimination" involved, though whether it is conscious or unconscious, much less "invidious," becomes much harder to determine.

Like Kevin, I would be surprised if fans of anime were prejudiced against Asian--or at least Japanese-heritage--artists. Female, maybe? But Asian/Japanese? That sounds a lot like someone being deeply invested in rap music, while simultaneously being deeply averse to current black American musical culture...

I suppose it's possible for a person to like rap, but to not like black actors or black baseball players or black media moguls (cf. the black writer-artist of the "Boondocks" comic strip, who regularly inveighs against the BET channel). Or to like rap, but to not like thug rap (or, certainly, to like rap, of whatever genre, but to not like thugs). Or to like rap, but to be ignorant of (or indifferent to) other issues impacting black American culture. But to respond strongly favorably to rap music, while maintaining deep-seated prejudices against the bearers of the culture that generate it, seems--not impossible, dissonance and compartmentalization are always possible--but not frequent enough to be worried about from a marketing standpoint.

As Kevin also points out, not every blog--or other artistic/literary/media/journalistic (with the emphasis on "journal") production--is intended to appeal to an indiscriminate mass audience in the first place.

To continue with the "marketing" analogy, there are mass markets and there are niche markets. One of the strengths of the Internet, computers, and databases--as Karl Rove has so successfully demonstrated--is the ability to tease out "consumers" (voters) who--as distinct from the mass of consumers (voters) in general--are extremely sensitive to particular narrow issues. And the truly sophisticated marketer can then cleverly leverage those seemingly narrow "trigger" issues to recruit the "niche" consumers (voters) to strengthen some broader campaign (the latter being a word that has much the same meaning for both advertising and electoral politics).

Here, it would seem that, whether intentionally or not, a young mother with a special-needs child who chooses to blog about that particular aspect of her life, motherhood, and child has, effectively, chosen a "niche" topic to "market" to a relatively-narrow "audience."

If such a young mother would rather appeal to a broader audience, at least part of the time, then she needs to invest in some introspection--and to then reach out to some sample group of non-young, non-mother, non-special-needs-focused folks (whether they are the rare non-"representative" members of her existing audience or, absent those, of her larger non-blog-reading social network)--to attempt to determine how to broaden or generalize those superficially-limiting aspects of her core topic.

This can be done, of course. In fact, it happens all the time: a TV show about the staff and regular patrons of a Boston liquor-service establishment can become a microcosm of humanity; likewise the doctors, nurses, and patients of a frontline battle-trauma triage clinic. And--I forget the name--but there was the appealing TV show of a decade or so ago about a family that included a (relatively high-functioning) Downs-Syndrome child.

Without knowing whether the young mother/bloggers involved in this "study" have given any thought to the topic of marketing--broad or narrow--in the "development" and "execution" of their blogs, or whether--to whatever extent they have thought about these issues--they have chosen one "strategy" over the other, I'm not certain we can really extract much in the way of useful data from an informal survey of this kind.

These thoughts are, of course, mostly just an extension of Kevin's...

purple_kangaroo said...

Kevin and Steviepinhead, you both made some good points.

Also, I misspoke. The blogger I mentioned is an animation artist, but most certainly not in an anime or even a particularly Asian style.

As for the prejudice thing and the study, I have mixed feelings. I think it likely that the study and the interpretation of it may not be ideally representative. For one thing, it's too small of a sample size. For another, some of the criteria are highly objective.

At the same time, though, I do think that--both in blogging and in real life--we tend to connect better with and be more interested in people like ourselves. Is that wrong? No. But is it a problem if people with visible differences or disabilities tend to be exluded, or to have to work harder to be included?

I do think that our society may have a tendency to discount, overlook or marginalize people who are drastically different from the norm--especially when it comes to disabilities. And I think it's possible that could affect the blogging world as well.

Both of you made good points about the "niche market" and I've been highly aware of that with my own blog . . . hey, even my own husband doesn't find it particularly interesting. Other mothers of young children are more likely to read and enjoy it. Recently I've gained a comparatively larger percentage of readers that are parents of children with health issues. That's to be expected, of course.

Still, I think there are things we can do, both in "real life" and in blogging, to help ourselves and others feel more comfortable with differences and to respond well to them. Even if it only affects one person, or only affects ourselves, I do think that anything we can do to that end is beneficial.

Kevin said...


It seems to me that you are approaching this from a slightly different direction than Andrea, which I can appreciate.

I agree that the "different" or disabled can be marginalized, particularly when they cannot participate according to "normal" expectations. In general, I think the internet can equalize many people in this respect, though some accessibility issues remain.

I still find your question to be rather broad about whether there is a problem with excluding people with "differences" or disabilities, or having to work harder to be included. But I guess it is always better to be included than excluded, right? :)

I agree that it can be a problem if we "exclude" or "include" people for irrelevant reasons. And I certainly don't want to argue against self-reflection or opening our horizons or being amicable or charitable. And, as you suggest, I would like to feel comfortable around people and help them feel comfortable around me, irrespective of differences or disabilities.

And on that note of agreement on good will, I bid a Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all good night. I thank you, my friends. :)